The Natural Semantics of Quantifiers
324 pp., 6 x 9 in, 11 b&w illus.
- Published: November 23, 2011
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A novel view of the syntax and semantics of quantifier scope that argues for a “combinatory” theory of natural language syntax.
In Taking Scope, Mark Steedman considers the syntax and semantics of quantifier scope in interaction with negation, polarity, coordination, and pronominal binding, among other constructions. The semantics is “surface compositional,” in that there is a direct correspondence between syntactic types and operations of composition and types and compositions at the level of logical form. In that sense, the semantics is in the “natural logic” tradition of Aristotle, Leibniz, Frege, Russell, and others who sought to define a psychologically real logic directly reflecting natural language grammar.
The book reunites the generative-transformational tradition initiated by Chomsky—which views the formal syntactic component as entirely autonomous—-with the older, strongly lexicalist, construction-based tradition, which has sought to define a more lingistically transparent theory of meaning representation. Steedman offers a logical formalism that relates directly to the surface form of language and to the process of inference and proof that it must support. Such a natural logic, although formal by definition, should be allowed to grow organically from attested language phenomena rather than be axiomatized a priori in terms of any standard logic. Steedman also considers the application of natural semantic interpretations to practical natural language processing tasks, emphasizing throughout the elimination of traditional quantifiers from semantic formalism in favor of devices such as Skolem terms and structure-sharing among representations in processing.
Steedman's book is one grand argument for scope interpretation being a matter of natural logic whose basic idea is that linguistic structure is the vehicle of inference. Recasting most quantifiers as underspecified Skolem terms allows syntax to compute the attested scope relations on-line. Steedman sets syntax and semantics in the context of human sentence processing as well as the efficient statistical parsing of corpora. One of the most impressive and thought-provoking books on language in many years.
Anna Szabolcsi, Department of Linguistics, New York University